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Fun things to do in Southern California

Illustration by James Gulliver Hancock

A curated list of the best upcoming events in Southern California.

Tea at the Huntington

Ongoing The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room has reopened following a major renovation. The refurbished building includes upgraded indoor dining space and a new outdoor dining pavilion overlooking the Shakespeare Garden. Adults, $25–$29 (for admission to the Huntington). Closed Tuesdays; reservations recommended. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino.

Luna Luna

Through March Most amusement parks are not known for crediting the artists who helped create the magic. Luna Luna’s vision was a bit different: The “world’s first art amusement park” was installed in Hamburg, Germany for a summer in 1987 before it was packed up in shipping containers, leaving  whimsical works created by Salvador Dali, Keith Haring, David Hockney, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and more than a dozen other 20th-century artists unseen for more than 35 years. Now they have been reassembled in a sprawling downtown space; although you can't actually go on the rides, they're still a wonder to behold. Tickets start at $20. Ace Missions Studio, Los Angeles

Black California Dreamin’: Claiming Space at America’s Leisure Frontier

FREE! Through March 31 Angelenos and other Californians worked to make access to nature, recreation, and relaxation possible for African Americans during the first half of the 20th century, when Southern California was positioning itself as the center of the “American dream.” This exhibit illuminates how African Americans helped shape recreational sites and public spaces during the Jim Crow era through historical photographs and memorabilia as well as contemporary artworks. California African American Museum, Los Angeles.

John Waters: Pope of Trash

Through August 4 Filmmaker/actor/provocateur John Waters’ gonzo films were screened strictly for the fringe until Hairspray made him a household name in 1988. That film would go on to become a Broadway hit, earning more than half a dozen Tony Awards 20 years ago. Since then, Waters has been broadly embraced as America’s weird uncle. The Academy Museum is presenting a complete retrospective of his career, including props, scripts, and behind-the-scenes photographs. Adults, $25. Academy Museum, Los Angeles

Louis Prima: Rediscovering a Musical Icon

FREE! Through October 13 Whether it was as one half of a Las Vegas performing duo with his wife, Keely Smith, or as King Louie in the 1967 film The Jungle Book, trumpeter, singer, bandleader, and voice actor Louis Prima always knew how to deliver the perfect punch line. The self-proclaimed “wild man” had numerous radio hits including “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “Jump, Jive an’ Wail.” This retrospective on Prima’s career emphasizes his New Orleans roots and features a collection of personal items and one-of-a-kind memorabilia. Italian American Museum, Los Angeles.

Festival of Whales

FREE! March 1–3 This festival celebrates the almighty whale and aims to protect them. Numerous marine life lectures and a beach clean-up emphasize the importance of clean waterways while car shows, live music, and barbecue keep sun-dappled attendees satiated. Though the festival is celebrating its 53rd year, the Cardboard Classic and Dinghy Dash has only been part of festivities for the last 7 years: Using only cardboard and duct tape, teams attempt to make a sea-worthy vessel for judges and observers. Dana Point Harbor, Dana Point

Santa Barbara International Orchid Show

March 8–10 This display of colorful, fragrant plants has been occurring annually for nearly 80 years. Check out the extravagant displays in the exhibit pavilion, browse the art show, watch potting demonstrations, and buy a few plants to take home. While you’re in Santa Barbara, make time to visit the 5 nurseries in the area that make up the California Orchid Trail. General admission, $20. Earl Warren Showgrounds, Santa Barbara

Adam Parker Smith

FREE! March 16–July 7 Adam Parker Smith creates whimsical, lighthearted sculptures and wall pieces that lean toward the surreal. Visitors to this exhibit can see one of Smith’s works on the museum’s front lawn: Called simply David, it’s a reimagining of the famed Bernini piece, made of the same materials (white Carrara marble on a stone pedestal) but compressed into a cubic meter—a playful, apartment-ready version of the original. San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, San Luis Obispo

Carnival of the Animals

March 16 The Pacific Symphony presents composer Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, incorporating puppetry from Robin Walsh, whose work has been seen in many TV shows and movies. Though it was never publicly released in Saint-Saëns’ lifetime, this playful suite of movements—each dedicated to a different animal—has endured in orchestra programs for generations. Tickets start at $15. Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa

Orange County Ukulele Festival

March 22–24 The ukulele has a deceptively simple reputation. While a standard uke has only 4 strings and is petite, it’s capable of a great range of musicality and emotion. This festival aims to highlight that diversity with workshops and open jam sessions for professionals and enthusiasts alike. Ukulelist Veronica Vox, also the event’s organizer, headlines the weekend’s closing concert at Orange County’s new state-of-the-art nightclub, Campus Jax. Passes start at $10. Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach

Swallows Day Parade

FREE! March 23 In the 1930s, Mission San Juan Capistrano started celebrating the return of the swallows. Every spring, the birds traveled 6,000-plus miles from Argentina to the mission, where they made mud nests and settled in for a few months. However, by 2003, the number of returning swallows had sharply declined due to decades of renovations and development. But thanks to efforts by mission staff and ornithologists—including playing recorded swallow calls from speakers and building fake nests—the swallows are slowly coming back. Now in its 64th year, the Swallows Day Parade celebrates the birds and the town’s history with horse-drawn floats, a unique tradition for one of the largest nonmotorized parades in the U.S. The Mercado Street Faire just off the parade route offers live music, food, vendors, and a kids’ play zone. Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano

An Evening with Henry Winkler

April 6 When Henry Winkler’s iconic Fonzie character bid farewell to America’s TV audiences nearly 40 years ago, it seemed that the actor might never shake the famous greaser’s laugh-tracked cool. While he has worked continuously since then, earning accolades for his voice-over work and unexpected cameos, Winkler has hit a new career peak over the past 5 years with his portrayal of Gene Cousineau on the alternately hilarious and brutal Barry. Hear some of the affable raconteur’s stories at the performing arts center at Cal State Long Beach. Tickets, $65. Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Long Beach

San Diego Vegan Festival

Free! April 13 Over the past 20 years, veganism has moved from a fringe diet to a culinary challenge that every good chef should be thrilled to tackle. This festival features an assortment of chefs, bakers, confectioners, and pizzaiolos sharing their plant-based eats. Past speaker panels have included vegan dietitians, vegan activists, and animal rescuers. Waterfront Park, San Diego

Psyanka Festival

FREE! April 14 Ukrainian Easter eggs are dipped in wax and etched with ornate designs, rich with detail and symmetry. Called psyanka, these eggs have been made for more than 1,000 years and are considered works of art. Ukrainian cultural history will be on full display at this festival, with psyanka-decorating, dancing, music, and perogies and borscht to be washed down with regional beers and vodkas. Ukrainian Culture Center, Los Angeles

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

FREE! April 20–21 Hundreds of publishing houses and thousands of authors converge on USC’s campus for the largest book festival in the U.S., which celebrates tomes from top researchers to celebrity memoirs and everything in between. There’s also story time for kids and engaging Q&As with authors for adults. University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Morro Bay Kite Festival

FREE! April 26–28 Enormous, extravagant kites fill the sky during this annualevent in Morro Bay, home to some of the world’s best kite-flying wind (according to the pros). The weekend kicks off with LED-lit kite-flying sessions on Friday evening, followed by kite giveaways and candy drops (where kites are loaded with candy, which then drops to the ground for kids to collect) at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday. A full day of kite-flying closes out the festival on Sunday. Morro Rock Beach, Morro Bay

Swan Lake

May 16–19 This production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, under the choreography of Nadezhda Kalinina, presents the timeless romantic tale for a family-friendly audience with a full-scale production that includes more than 150 hand-sewn costumes. Tickets start at $40. May 16 at California Center for the Arts, Escondido; May 17 and 18 at Civic Theater, San Diego; May 19 at Terrace Theater, Long Beach.

FREE! indicates free admission to the event, but additional fees may be required. Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.

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